5 Men Convicted in Plot to Kill Soldiers at Fort Dix

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A federal jury in New Jersey yesterday convicted five foreign-born Muslim men of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix and other military installations as part of what prosecutors charged was a plot to launch an Islamic "holy war" against the United States.

The men face the possibility of life in prison when U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler hands down sentences next spring. Four of the five were also convicted on weapons charges.

The jury acquitted the five on charges of attempted murder. A sixth conspirator in the case pleaded guilty to weapons charges in October 2007 and was sentenced this year to 20 months in federal prison.

"These criminals had the capacity and had done preparations to do serious and grievous harm to members of our military," Ralph Marra, the acting U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said at a news conference after the verdict.

Defense attorneys said they were considering appeals. They had argued in court that the defendants never carried out any actual attack, had no real intention of acting on the alleged plot and were manipulated by two paid FBI informants.

After an eight-week trial, the sequestered jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about 38 hours over six days before reaching the verdict.

"This has been one of the most difficult things that we have ever had to do," the jurors said in a statement read in court by the judge. "We have held the fate of these five defendants in our hands, and we have not reached our conclusions lightly."

Convicted were brothers Dritan Duka, 30, Shain Duka, 27, and Eljvir Duka, 25, illegal immigrants from the former Yugoslavia who ran a Cherry Hill, N.J., roofing business; Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 23, an immigrant from Jordan employed as a taxi driver in Philadelphia; and Serdar Tatar, 25, a Turkish-born convenience store clerk in Philadelphia. Shnewer is a naturalized U.S. citizen; Tatar is a legal permanent resident.

Federal prosecutors said the men planned to attack Fort Dix, an Army post about 35 miles east of Philadelphia, with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades to kill as many U.S. soldiers as they could. They said the men had plotted the attack since January 2006, drawing inspiration from the al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, although they apparently had no direct links with any group.

The FBI infiltrated the group after an electronics store employee informed authorities that customers had asked him to transfer onto a DVD recordings of young men firing automatic weapons and shouting slogans calling for holy war.

During the conspiracy, the government charged, members of the cell conducted surveillance at Fort Dix and other installations, viewed "terrorist training videos" glorifying the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and depicting the beheading of American military personnel, acquired several weapons, practiced using them in Pennsylvania and "engaged in tactical training" with paint-ball guns.

When the men were arrested in May 2007, they were in the final stages of preparations and were about to purchase more weapons from a seller who was actually a confidential government witness, prosecutors said.

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